YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – 27 First News Community Affairs Director Dee Crawford sits down with Youngstown State University President Dr. Helen Lafferty.
Dr. Lafferty is the interim president while the board searches for a replacement following Jim Tressel’s retirement.
“I was a global trustee member and then when President Tressel resigned they were looking for an interim. The chair of the board asked me if I would be interested and I thought to myself, interested? It would be an honor beyond words for me,” Dr. Lafferty said.
Dr. Lafferty is an alumnus of YSU holding both a bachelor’s and master’s degree from the university. She grew up on the North Side of Youngstown.
“It’s really been wonderful. My life has been, has come full circle for me. I’ve enjoyed it so much,” she said.
Dr. Lafferty said she is often asked what her goals are as interim president. She answers with a focus on the people of YSU.
“It’s quite simple. I need to be for the people at Youngstown State University what they need me to be for as long as I am here,” she said. “That really captures the essence of how I view this position and what I intended to do while I was here.”
Dr. Lafferty said the partnerships created by the university have remained intact and are growing stronger.
“It is heartwarming to see that while our university is contained on Wick Avenue, that’s only where we are geographically. We are really everywhere,” she said. “I get to see all of those happening. It’s not just something I hear about, it’s something I actually see.”
Dr. Lafferty discussed the importance of higher education, especially for a city like Youngstown with a major university.
“Higher education nationally is going through a phase where, as we know, people are saying they are losing confidence in what we’re doing. Sadly, that’s a very unfortunate place for them to be, because in my opinion, having spent the last 42 years of my professional life in higher education, I can tell you and all the viewers there is nothing more important than higher education, than our students getting their degrees, going on, working in our state or elsewhere, hopefully, our state and our city, making it better,” Dr. Lafferty said. “They’re able to think more deeply, contemplate more often, decide more wisely — those are the skills our universities give to our students. They are skills that last a lifetime, regardless of what you do professionally. They’re really skills that make you a better person, make your life better and all those that you meet.”
She says students at YSU are second to none.
“They are incredible young people. I just am so delighted to be with them. I have a group that are my mentors, so they keep me on the straight and narrow and they give me advice and they say, ‘OK, Dr. Lafferty, think about this.’ I am so grateful to those students. We have extraordinary faculty and our staff persons are just second to none,” Dr. Lafferty said.
Lafferty said the future and legacy of YSU will be putting students first and drawing on what the founders wanted for the legacy of the university.
“I always start with the mission. What was it that the founders of Youngstown and at that time it was a technical college? What was it they wanted to do? What was it they wanted to provide? And our current mission statement captures, I think, what is so very important and what actually happens at our university. And what does it say? It says that at Youngstown State University, we are an institution of opportunity where students are first. We do three things. We inspire individuals, we enliven lives and we enrich futures. That, to me, is the most wonderful testimony of any university, and how great it is to know that that’s exactly what Youngstown State University Mission says,” she said.
Currently, there are 11,000 students at YSU. Lafferty’s message to incoming students is set a goal for graduation.
“I’m really going to be happy in four years or five years or how many years it takes you — you walk across that stage and the president shakes your hand and puts your diploma in your hand. That is our finest moment.